Multi-tasking – Is it Really Effective?

There is a value to living in the moment – to being focused on one thing at one time. Thich Naht Hanh the Vietnamese Buddhist comments that when you are doing the dishes, do the dishes. The idea is that focusing entirely on one thing is beneficial both in terms of your effectiveness and your mental energy and happiness. Often we put ourselves on auto-pilot when we are doing a mundane job, or one that we don't particularly enjoy. By completely focusing on it, mindfulness practitioners tell us we will be content in the moment – neither living in the past or fantasizing about the future.

Most people think they are good at multi-tasking but in reality, they are not. Try this exercise: recite the alphabet as quickly as possible. Easy yes? It probably took about ten seconds. Now count out loud from 1 to 26 as quickly as you can. Again, not difficult and you probably managed it in less than ten seconds.

Now, try to combine the two; that is recite A1, B2, C3 etc. as fast as you can. Not so easy is it? You probably got frustrated and didn't even manage to finish – good for you if you did! The point is that it is far more difficult to combine two simple tasks than to focus on them individually. Sure, you may have managed it, but how much longer did it take you? If it was longer than 20 seconds it would have been better to carry out the two tasks separately. If you found combining two such simple tasks together difficult, what hope do you have of being efficient, accurate and effective at combining several complex tasks? Sure, it's possible, but at what cost?

Think about multi-tasking while driving – yes, we're referring to using your cell phone behind the wheel of your car. One in four car accidents in the U.S. is caused by someone texting – it's about the same in Canada. Almost 3,500 people were killed in 2016 due to distracted driving and there were 421,000 crashes resulting in injury.

So, yes most of us can and do multi-task but is it really effective or wise? In many cases it's actually multi-handling which wastes time. Multi-tasking has also been found to be stressful and to diminish creativity. A study was carried out which discovered that people who use their cell phone while driving take longer to get to their destination!

Experts suggest that batching similar tasks is much more efficient than multi-tasking because you get into a specific mindset and you make less mistakes and miss less.

Try practising mindfully focusing on one thing more often and multi-tasking less frequently and see if you achieve more! Perhaps mindfulness will become the new "in" technique for entrepreneurs; if it does, we can expect an increase in productivity. And, no, don't check your phone right this minute!

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